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FIRST LOOK: Microsoft Security Essentials

Simon Sharwood

 

Microsoft Security Essentials, the company’s new, free, consumer-grade endpoint security software released this week is a strong competitor for other free anti-virus software from commercial vendors.

The software, released this week, is the successor to the widely-panned OneCare, which was bulky, unpleasant to use and sometimes ineffectual.

Security Essentials seems to have corrected the last flaw, with independent testing organisation AV-test.org reportedly finding the software detected 98.44% of known malware, albeit with some problems removing unwanted software.

Our experience with the software also indicates that bulk has been addressed. The software used just 4864k of system memory on our production PC, a small quantity few other anti-virus tools we have seen have been able to achieve. Security Essentials has therefore had no noticeable impact on our daily computing experience, a welcome change from the brakes OneCare (and other commercial packages we have used) imposed on our computers.

That leaves us with the user experience to judge, and Security Essentials certainly presents a clean interface. Again, it seems an improvement on the non-standard interfaces we have often wrestled with in other consumer-grade security software. But the software lacks the ability to simply zap malware without notifying the user it is about to do so, offering reminders of its activity that invoke Windows Vista’s notoriously intrusive UAC.

The frequent popups could be because Security Essentials insists your editor’s PC is under hourly assault by a Conficker variant (don’t worry, we use other AV software on all outgoing material), an assertion unsupported by other security software we have used.

Overall, Security Essentials is pleasing to use and appears to do the job. Its close adherence to familiar Windows interface elements mean it has a shallower learning curve than other free antivirus products.

It is not, however, a business tool as it lacks innumerable features for those wanting to establish business-wide security policies. Nor, as we have reported in the past, is Forefront (Microsoft’s business-grade endpoint antivirus) a top tier contender for business.

Nonetheless, the mere existence of the software has clearly caught rivals’ attention, if this Symantec-commissioned study of its Norton products vs. Security Essentials is any guide.